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AMD’s Ambitious Platform Designs

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AMD Roadmap

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — OK, so the economy stinks and market leader Intel just slashed its fourth-quarter revenue estimates by more than $1 billion. Yet smaller rival AMD isn’t letting the current business climate bring it down.

Instead, the company put on a feisty presentation here at its financial analysts meeting, showing that it’s ready to take on a two-front war with Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) and graphics player nVidia in spite of the economic gloom.

After eight consecutive quarters of losses, AMD (NYSE: AMD) has retrenched under its new CEO, Dirk Meyer, and now says it’s looking at a return to profitability and positive cash flow — a claim that comes as most major players in the IT industry are hunkering down on expectations of waning spending.

But AMD expects to be able to get itself back in the black thanks to spinning off its foundry business and by introducing a sweeping line of new products.

“In 2009, we plan to remain focused on executing our new product roadmaps, extend our leadership in graphics technology, refresh all our existing computing platform offerings and introduce innovative new platforms targeting key growth opportunities like ultraportable notebooks,” Meyer said during his presentation.

That plan involves at least one change in direction, however. The company said it would push back the release of its new Bulldozer core, which is reportedly to be the first major redesign of the AMD core architecture since it introduced the x64 architecture in 2003.

Originally planned for 2009, Bulldozer will now make its first appearance in 2011 to give AMD room to more fully flesh out the mobile and desktop platforms it unveiled today, the company said.

New platforms

Randy Allen, senior vice president of AMD’s computing solutions group, carried the water on giving the audience updates on a number of previously announced products while showing off a slew of wholly new designs.

For instance, he said the company remains on track to release a new chipset, called Fiorano, next year. Fiorano will introduce new I/O virtualization optimizations.

It’s also still planning a 2009 debut for Istanbul, a six-core processor based on the Shanghai technology released today. In 2010 comes the new Maranello platform, featuring higher-performance DDR3 memory, and two new processors — the six-core Sao Paolo and 12-core Magny-Cours.

Allen also talked up a number of new models AMD plans to introduce, many of which are for notebooks.

Until recently, notebooks have been something of a sore spot for AMD, which only got into the market for a notebook-friendly, combined CPU, graphics and chipset platform with Puma. The move filled a hole in its product offerings that had put it well behind Intel’s extremely popular Centrino.

Now, with notebooks representing a potential $10 billion business, compared with $7.5 billion for performance desktops and $5 billion for servers, the latest efforts signal that AMD is going for the big market in earnest.

One new family member will be Yukon, which is set for the first half of 2009, and which will be for sub-notebooks — although it promises the full notebook experience by avoiding crippling features, AMD said.

“What I hear from customers is ‘I like the [subnotebook] form factor but I don’t like the non-PC experience,” Allen said.

Allen also introduced Tigris, for mainstream notebooks, which will be a dual-core, 45nm laptop processor with support for high-definition video and improved battery life. That’s set for the second half of 2009.

Kodiak, meanwhile, is a business laptop design also planned for the second half of 2009. It will deliver business functions like Desktop and Mobile Architecture for System Hardware (DASH) — a Web services-based standard for managing remote systems — and Energy Star 5 compliance. It will also be a 45nm design.

Also coming in the second half of 2009 will be Pisces, a platform targeting power users at home with a balanced CPU/GPU combination and support for high-definition entertainment.

Maui, a home-theater PC design with support for full high-definition video and AVR surround sound audio, is making its debut this quarter.

For power users and gamers, AMD is launching Dragon in the first quarter of 2009. It will be built on a new, upcoming series of 45nm Phenom client processors, called Phenom II. Dragon also will feature AMD technologies that include Fusion, which combines a CPU and GPU on one die, and Stream, which enables graphics hardware to be used for non-graphical computation. It also will support AMD’s OverDrive overclocking for system tweakers.

Bulldozers gets plowed backwards

Allen also announced a batch of new processors and detailed AMD’s roadmap to 2011. Coming in 2009 are the new Phenoms, called Deneb and Propos. Both are quad-core designs, with a 2MB cache on Propos and an 8MB cache on Deneb.

In addition, Allen talked up Caspan — a previously disclosed dual-core, 45nm notebook processor with a 2MB cache. He also unveiled Conesus, a dual-core model with a 1MB cache designed for ultraportables and slated to ship in 2009. In 2010, AMD will introduce Champlain, a quad-core notebook with 2MB of cache, and Geneva, a dual-core ultraportable processor with 2MB of cache, he said.

The delayed Bulldozer will come the following year. While the rumor mill had been expecting eight or 16 cores, but Bulldozer will start more modestly. The first processor in the lineup, Orochi, will be a four-core chip for desktop users, offering more than 8MB of cache and support for DDR3 memory and built using a 32nm manufacturing process.

The next model, Llano, will be a similar design, but with 4MB in cache and a GPU — presumably AMD’s Fusion technology. The processor will be used for desktops and notebooks.

Meanwhile, a dual-core processor with 1MB of cache, called Ontario, will be the Bulldozer for ultraportables.

There wasn’t much server talk among all of these processors, since much of that aspect of AMD’s roadmap is already on the table in the form of Istanbul, Sao Paulo and Magny-Course. But it’s also a choice of emphasis on AMD’s part.

This article was first published on

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